The video was recorded on an old VHS tape which had been in service far past the point it should have been discarded. Carter's annoyance with the badly degraded image caused his right eye to twitch, but nobody in the room seemed to notice.
"Look! Look at this!" Carter said as his finger punched the rewind button yet again. Then, for what seemed like the fiftieth time, he pressed play.
The VCR lurched into action with a heavy "clunk" as the tiny television came to life.
A nondescript convenience store materialized out of a wash of video noise. The image was so bleached of color that it might as well have been black and white. The camera was focused on the service counter where a young man was ringing up purchases into a cash register. His customer, a middle-aged man in a full business suit, stood waiting with his wallet open.
There was no sound, but everybody's imagination was filling in the blanks. A 2-liter bottle of Coke. Beep Beep Beep. A bag of OREO cookies. Beep Beep Beep. A roll of mints. Beep Beep.
The image began to shudder as a blast of jagged white lines started rolling through the picture. Then, just as suddenly as it had been obscured, the image cleared again. The store clerk had finished ringing up the man's purchases and was dumping everything into a plastic bag. The customer tossed a wad of bills on the counter as a woman appeared behind him holding a six-pack of beer in her left hand.
"Here it comes!" Carter whispered.
The woman, who had very dark skin, closely-cropped hair, and was wearing a magenta mini-skirt that burst out of the muted display like a signal flare, was talking to the man now. It was impossible to know what she was saying, but the man appeared calm and relaxed.
At least he was until she pulled a gun out of the breast pocket of her heavy black leather jacket and shot him twice in the heart.
Carter laughed with a high-pitched squeal and started rewinding the tape again. "Just look at you there with your big gun and stiletto heels! What a mess you made!"
"I know, I was there."
The woman from the video sat bound to a high-back chair. Her jacket was now splattered with blood that had dried to a dark carmine color. One of her eyes was swollen and her lip had been split. This time the blood was fresh and glistened a bright crimson.
"Yes. Yes... you... were," Carter said with a grumble as he pressed play for what seemed like the fifty-first time. The woman's eyes rolled back in her head as the scene started yet again.
"Tell me, Monica, because I truly am curious... who got to you? Who convinced you that betraying me was in your best interest? Who was it that deluded you into believing this was survivable?"
On the display, a store clerk was ringing up a 2-liter bottle of Coke. Now, in the recorded past, he's reaching for a bag of OREOs.
The woman tried to shift her position to something more comfortable, but the tubing that tied her to the chair was too tight. She tried twisting her torso to loosen her bonds, but was defeated. With nothing better to do, she began to speak. Carter stopped the tape and tossed the VCR remote on a nearby table.
"Your interdimensional friends, of course," Monica said, her voice eerily flat and expressionless. "They told me everything. They spoke to me from a beam of sunlight and told me that you were going to destroy the world."
If Carter was surprised, he didn't show it.
"But you're wrong about one thing. They never told me this was survivable. I have no delusions."
Now something changed on Carter's face. Fear?
The woman began to speak again, but her voice was drowned out by a high-pitched squeal. Carter and his assortment of hired killers were all covering their ears. Monica would have covered hers if she could, but she was tied to a chair and couldn't move. It didn't matter. The sound was growing louder, and nothing was going to stop it.
Despite the deafening audio assault hammering into her skull and the brilliant white glow clawing its way out of her chest, the woman smiled. She had sacrificed herself so that the whole world might live. She had atoned for her many sins and, if there were a heaven, she was guaranteed entry. After a decade of despair, she finally had something to smile about. She finally understood.
And then Monica exploded in ball of light, taking six city blocks with her.
Carter died wondering how things had gone so terribly wrong.
Sixteen dimensions away, a sunbeam quivers in amusement. Tomorrow he will shift back through the time stream and find something new to play with. But today? This refraction is over, and he's hungry. He wonders what frequency of photons will be served for dinner. There are no shadows in his world.